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2011-02-11

“Our Hope Increases Day After Day”: Longtime Egyptian Human Rights Activist Nawal El Saadawi

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Renowned feminist and human rights activist Nawal El Saadawi responds to Mubarak’s decision to stay in power and criticizes the U.S. role in Egypt over the past 30 years. El Saadawi is a former political prisoner who was exiled from Egypt for years. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone right now, not far from where you are standing, by Nawal El Saadawi, a well-known Egyptian feminist and writer, has entered her 80th year, well known throughout Egypt, imprisoned under Sadat.

We spoke yesterday, Dr. Saadawi, on the phone just before Mubarak spoke, when all believed he would be stepping down. You were ecstatic. Now Mubarak says he will not step down. What are your thoughts today?

Nawal El Saadawi, can you hear me?

Well, we will try to get her back on. Let me just say that Al Jazeera English is reporting tens of thousands of protesters in the port city of Suez have surrounded 10 government buildings and announced that they will not leave until Mubarak steps down — this being reported by Al-Ahram, the largest state-owned newspaper.

Anjali Kamat, talk about the significance of not only Cairo — I mean, that’s where we have been focusing — but that this is nationwide. And when we’re talking Suez, the significance of the Suez Canal, with how many — 35,000 ships going through a year, with eight percent of global trade going through the Suez Canal, and it also brings in the whole issue of the labor movement joining in these last days, though, well, in the last years has inspired this, as well.

ANJALI KAMAT: Yeah, absolutely, Amy. I mean, this is a nationwide movement. It’s not just restricted to Cairo. While most foreign correspondents and most of the attention has been on Cairo, this is happening in cities and towns across Egypt. And the fact that it’s happening in Suez, as well, is particularly significant, given that the trade route through the Canal is one of the main sources of income for the Egyptian economy. Tourism now is completely shot, with this uprising and the curfew and, initially, the state security response, and then the state’s unleashing of thugs. Most tourists have fled the country. Flights to Egypt have been canceled. So the tourist economy has taken a real beating. And if the Suez Canal were to be shut down by these strikes, that would be another big blow to the Egyptian economy. It’ll be interesting to see how the state responds, in the event that that happens.

AMY GOODMAN: Anjali, we just got Nawal El Saadawi on the phone again from her home in Cairo. She’s been spending every day at Tahrir. I was just saying, Nawal, that we spoke yesterday right before the expected resignation of Mubarak, yet he didn’t do that. You were ecstatic yesterday. What are your feelings today?

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: Well, it is part of his strategy to gain time, hoping that we are tired because we are out day and night in the cold. But we are not tired. Every day, millions pour in the streets. And now the military issued their second statement, and people are very angry. They even call it the black day of the Egyptian army, because we expected the army to compel Mubarak to resign, because Egypt is on fire. And now the millions, millions of people know the power in the hand in the street, the power in Egypt, not in the military, not in Mubarak, not in Omar Suleiman, not in anybody except the millions in the street and in Tahrir Square. And now we enlarged our area. It’s not only Tahrir Square, it’s everywhere — around the TV building, around Mubarak palace, in Aswan, in Alexandria. So, our all squares and streets are full of people — women, children, men. It’s not Muslim Brothers. The Muslim Brothers are a minority. So it’s all Egypt outside, and nobody can conquer, and even not the military, because some people — I heard some people saying, if the military shoots the people, we are not scared of the military, because the military cannot shoot millions of Egyptians. It will be a great crime, and the history of the army is much better than that. But we didn’t expect the statement number two of the army that they said after Mubarak’s speech. So now we are taking to the streets, to squares. There is no way back.

And we won our revolution, whatever they are saying. And we are not listening to rumors, because what’s happening, Amy, I heard today that the Egyptian television of Mubarak is polluting the reputation of some of the figures, like me, to the people. You know, a man who came to me from Imbaba, from the very poor area, and he told me, "I heard on TV yesterday that some Mubarak men attacking you," attacking me personally and saying that Mubarak released me from prison after the assassination of Sadat and met us in his palace in November 1981. "So how come that Mubarak released you, and then you revolt against him?" It’s so stupid, you know. So, anyway, they are polluting and damaging the image of revolutionary women and men in the eyes of people who look at the Egyptian television. But nobody believed that. You know, nobody believed that.

We are winning. We are very optimistic. Our hope increases day after day, regardless of Mubarak’s speech or the military statements. Mubarak now, they said that he left to Sharm el-Sheikh, and he left already. But we don’t know, because some people say he went to Dubai, in Emirates, and some say he went to Germany for treatment. Anyway, he is not in Cairo. But this is not enough, because it’s not a matter of Mubarak leaving or not leaving. We are not important in Mubarak. Now we have the whole system should pay, the whole Mubarak system and regime and the patriarchal capitalist system, collaborating with American capitalism and imperialism and Israeli invasion and capitalism. So the people now are becoming revolutionary against the whole system, globally and in Egypt. So we gained a lot, women and men. We gained a lot from this revolution.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Nawal El Saadawi, I want to ask you about that speech last night by the President. Among the many bizarre things that he said was, at one point he said — he basically recognized the legitimacy of the protests and then talked to the mothers of the martyrs of the movement, saying how he felt their pain and that he was going to hold those responsible who were involved in some of these killings. And yet he — it was his regime that did it. I’m saying to myself, what is he saying, that he’s got to hold the culprits responsible? What was — that had to have an effect on ordinary Egyptians who had not yet participated in the protests.

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: Not at all, not at all. Women here in my building in Shoubra, women who even don’t read and write, they do not believe Mubarak, because they said he never fulfilled his promises, he’s a liar, and he’s a thief, because he gained millions of dollars with his family and because he killed, he killed hundreds of young people. And people are angry. He said, "I am the father, and those are my daughters and sons." So the young people were shouting in Tahrir Square after his speech and saying, "How can a father kill his sons and daughters?" His speech was very weak, very lying, very contradictory. He just wanted to use emotional things and sometimes threats. So he was — that’s his strategy. But it didn’t work. And also, the speech followed by his Omar Suleiman deputy did not work. And also the statement of the military did not work, because the millions are aware now of the trick, and they are not ready to be deceived. They are not ready to be deceived again.

AMY GOODMAN: Nawal El Saadawi, we just got word that Kareem Amer, one of the most famous young bloggers of Egypt, has been released from a desert jail, where he was held with a friend for almost a week. You know Kareem well.

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: Kareem Amer, yes, yes. He came to my home. He’s a member of Nawal El Sadaawi Forum, because every Wednesday, the first Wednesday of every month, young people organize a meeting in my home. They call themselves Mideast Youth. They have bloggers, they have webs, and they call themselves Mideast Youth. And Kareem Amer came with them to my home and became a member in Nawal El Saadawi Forum. I heard that he disappeared. I heard that he disappeared. We tried to find him; we couldn’t. But did you hear that he’s released?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, he has been released, and very significant, because this is a young man, of course, that was jailed for four years for blogging, as a dissident blogger in Egypt, then there for the protests and then re-arrested, but now has been released.

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: But, yes, I tell you something, because this is also a maneuver by the government, because they released Kareem Amer, and they released Wael Ghonim, another blogger, you know? Another one.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, he’s the Google marketing executive —

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: Exactly, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — who has gotten so much attention, who set up the website, "We Are All Khaled Said," a young man who was beaten to death by plainclothes police officers coming out of an internet cafe.

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: Exactly. So they — the Prime Minister even talked to him, to Wael Ghonim, and he was released after 12 days in prison, after the 25 revolution. And now they release Kareem Amer. So they are making the trick to divide the young people. So, they are arresting hundreds of them, but they release some of the famous ones, like Wael and Kareem and all that, hoping that the most famous young [inaudible] who led the revolution will be a little bit, you know, separated from the hundreds who are in prison. So what we are saying now, that all young and old people, all people related to the revolution, should be out, not only Wael or Kareem or few men who the Prime Minister is trying to attract for the so-called dialogue. But the young people are aware of that. And also Wael and Kareem are aware of that. And they are saying all arrested young men and women and all should be out, or we are with them.

AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to let you know that the Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, has become the first European Union leader to publicly call for President Mubarak to step down. He said, "Mubarak is history, Mubarak must step down." President Obama has not gotten that far. Also, though, in the beginning, he was pushing hard verbally. When it came to the amount of money that the U.S. spends on Egypt, close to $2 billion, much of it going to U.S. military contractors like Lockheed Martin, like General Dynamics, like Boeing, for military weapons sales, those sales are still in the pipeline. Dr. Nawal El Saadawi, your thoughts on the U.S. role here and what you feel would be most helpful?

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: Well, you see that Mubarak, even in his speech, in his speech yesterday or the day before, he said, you know, "I don’t accept any external interference, foreign interference, in our lives." This is — everybody was laughing at Tahrir Square, because he was submitting to the U.S. orders, even to Israeli orders, all the time, all the time. And now, when they said that he should leave power or, you know, reply to the demands of the millions, he started to be against and say, "I do not accept U.S. — I do not accept foreign interference." He didn’t say American.

Anyway, the people in Tahrir Square, the millions of men and women who made the revolution and who are continuing the revolution, they know what the United States did to us, since Sadat. Sadat and the U.S. ruined the economy of Egypt. They ruined our dignity by aid, American aid. And we said, from the beginning, "We don’t accept American aid. We need free trade, and not aid." They brought the fundamentalists, because usually I say bin Laden and George Bush are twins. Sadat and Mubarak and America and Israel are — encourage the most fanatic Islamic and Christian and Jewish fundamentalism to divide us, to fight against socialists and feminists. So we are aware of U.S. role in Egypt, U.S. government, since Reagan, since all of George Bush and Obama. They ruined our economy. And they gave us aid, so-called aid, which went to the pockets of regime people, men and women, and to the U.S. again. So we are not — we were not deceived by what America, U.S. government did to us.

And what we say to U.S. government: keep away from Egypt. Keep away. End American neocolonialism. End your 100 percent support to Israelis killing the Palestinians. End your false democracy. End your hypocrisy. Now they are confused, but we are fed up with neocolonialism and interference in our affairs. Now Egypt is a new Egypt, independent Egypt, dignified Egypt, not accepting aid. We are going to depend on our production, agricultural production, industrial production. We are regaining our dignity and freedom and justice.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Nawal El Saadawi, the United States clearly is ready to let Mubarak go but would prefer Suleiman to be the new caretaker of the government. Your sense of how the protesters and the population would accept Suleiman even for a transitional period, or is it too late for that already?

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: It’s too late. Not for a minute. The millions of people in the streets and in the squares, they do not accept Mubarak or any — not only Omar Suleiman — or any of his men, in the government or in the party. They do not accept the whole regime, because we read about the billions of dollars those men took, including Mubarak family, billions of dollars. And now the general prosecutor is starting to investigate. And I think Mubarak is sticking to power because he’s afraid of the trial. So he wants to keep power, so that through power he will prevent the trial to him and his family. So, in fact, we know all that. We know all that.

And Omar Suleiman, he made a very bad speech after Mubarak’s speech, and he’s more military and more aggressive and more criminal than others. So the crowd, everybody, even at homes, they say, "No, we don’t want Omar Suleiman. We don’t want [inaudible]. We don’t want any man worked with Mubarak, even intellectuals, even writers who worked with Mubarak and supported him. We are not accepting. We need now honest, brave, dissident, creative writers and honest people who work for Egypt, for independent Egypt, and to refuse neocolonial powers and aggression and oppression from outside or inside.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Nawal El Saadawi, we thank you so much for being with us, leading Egyptian feminist, writer, psychiatrist. We thank you for joining us from Cairo. This is an epic day. Millions of Egyptians, from Suez to Cairo, from Alexandria to Mahalla, are taking to the streets right now, this after the address last night of Hosni Mubarak saying he would not leave the presidency of Egypt.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. For those listening on the radio, at democracynow.org we’re showing the images live of the mass protests. Tell your friends to tune in. We will be back to talk about just who Omar Suleiman is, the handpicked successor to Mubarak, his relationship with the United States, specifically the CIA, with extraordinary rendition and torture. Stay with us.

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